Beware! Disturbed Sleep Can Affect Mental Health – How To Sleep Better And Keep Problems At Bay

By Dr Meenakshi Jain

The relationship between sleep and mental health has become a topic of significant interest in recent years. Sleep disturbance is one of the most common complaints presented by individuals seeking help for mental illness and related issues. Patients often describe their struggle with insomnia as distressing and exhausting, with negative physical, emotional, and cognitive effects that persist throughout the day.

These effects include body aches, daytime irritability, difficulty in concentration, memory issues, and inability to perform daytime activities.

Research-based evidence provides a strong reason to believe that disturbed sleep can worsen preexisting mental health issues. Furthermore, poor sleep habits can play a significant role in generating new mental illnesses.

Normal sleep cycles consist of five stages, each associated with different brain activity. Healthy sleep is an essential requirement for adequate functional processing of various cognitive and emotional data processing domains of the brain, including procedural memory, declarative memory, repairing and regrowth of tissue, and emotional information processing. Disturbed sleep can lead to altered processing function further reflected as mental health issues.

Complex Relationship: How Sleep Can Affect Mental Health

The relationship between sleep and mental health is complex, and multifaceted and is affected by various factors. Mood disorders such as depression, PMDD, and seasonal affective disorder are often associated with insomnia. Many mental disorders that are associated with anxiety such as generalized anxiety disorders, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are also associated with hyperarousal, racing mind, excess worry, and difficulty falling asleep. Neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD and autism are also found to be associated with higher rates of sleep problems. Poor sleep in the absence of a mental disorder can also lead to various troubling issues such as brain fog, easy irritability, anxiety, increased instances of anger, difficulty coping with stress, and behavior changes such as impulsivity, hyperactivity, and emotional outbursts.

How To Develop Better Sleep Habits For Sound Mental Health

Improving sleep habits is crucial for maintaining good mental health. Experts recommend maintaining a fixed sleep schedule and waking up at a fixed time, avoiding alcohol and caffeine in the evening hours, avoiding late meals, avoiding bright lights including lights from electronic items such as mobile, TV that can hamper sleep, regular exercise, relaxation training and avoiding daytime naps.

In conclusion, sleep and mental health issues are intertwined in complex ways. Disturbed sleep can be an early indicator, a part as well as a consequence of mental health-related problems. Keeping a track of sleep is essential, thus individuals should ensure sleep hygiene and set aside some time for relaxation. If sleep disturbance is distressing, visiting a mental health professional for assessment and management is recommended.

(Disclaimer: Dr Meenakshi Jain is an Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad.  The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of DNH.)

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